Chapter 5: of Lives and Choices
of Lives and Choices
Another important political issue of 1967 was regarding the debate on abortion. Since the early 60s, the national pro-choice movement had been on the rise, with women’s rights groups pushing for the liberalisation of the harsh laws in place and often even operating underground clinics, leaving many in peril as, in the pursuit of illegal abortions, the women endangered their own lives.
This movement was gaining great strength, despite the fierce opposition of the pro-life movements, the most powerful of which emerged from no other place than the Catholic Church, whose groups campaigned fiercely towards keeping any liberalisation attempts at bay for fear it would be used with too much leniency and effectively become a contraceptive method.
On April 25, 1967, the State of Colorado made History by passing the first legislation decriminalising abortion in the United States, breaking the first window in that pro-life, pro-choice war; this law extended the conditions for abortion from endangering the mother’s life to include threats to the woman’s physical and mental health, birth defects of the child or cases of rape or incest, while many of those against the law accused it of being easily taken advantage of by those who did not meet the criteria but could pose as such. This inspired many pro-choice groups across the United States to seek action from their own legislatures to see similar measures passed.
North Carolina would become the second State to enact such laws, with very similar wording to that of the Colorado one; surprisingly, there was no great uproar around this law, possibly due to the low numbers of Catholics in the State, having the lowest percentage of any State at the time; this only encouraged pro-choice groups to pursue such policies.
The next battleground was none other than the State of California; the Catholic Church was a more powerful influence there, but so were the women rights’ and progressive groups, who, together with some Protestant leaders among the Republicans even, were able to pass a similar law to those of Colorado and North Carolina, while lacking the clause for birth defects.
The extraordinary fact of the Californian Therapeutic Abortion Act, however, was California’s statutory definition of “mental health” that left much to the interpretation. Many feared this would allow for private hospitals to be liberal in what they deemed “healthy” and allow abortions for that clause with ease, while the more law-abiding and conservative public hospitals would not grant them, thereby creating a socio-economic distinction on abortion access.
After passing the test of the Legislature, the procedure demanded that Governor Feynman sign in into law or instead send it back for review by means of vetoing it, an action that would have jeopardised its future, as a supermajority would have been required to see it through.
Feynman’s position on the matter was between being pro-choice and, more sincerely, not caring too much about the matter personally. He couldn’t say he had never thought about the theme, especially as, a decade earlier, he had been conned into paying for a non-existing but supposedly illegal abortion for a former girlfriend, who had already taken his Albert Einstein Award gold medal as a prize. He remembered how it hadn’t been exactly a small sum he had had to pay for the fictional procedure, which made him sympathise with the women seeking its liberalisation and public health status.
In the end, considering his approval was following what seemed to be a rising trend and the will of the Legislature, and that going against all this, resisting the decriminalisation, made him a hypocrite, Feynman would sign the act into law, an action that was later validated in the famous Roe vs. Wade that saw such laxation of the abortion laws become national policy.
The law’s ultimate effects were those feared by its rivals – its mental health provisions were liberally interpreted by any hospital with a monetary incentive to do so and so did many public hospitals, as the policy became for leniency in allowing such operations to carry on. Around 200,000 legal abortions were carried out the following year, a substantial rise from the 518 legal abortions carried before the law was passed.
Despite this, the popularity of Governor Feynman wasn’t quite affected or helped by this; he had followed protocol and approved an already popular, if controversial, measure that was reigning in the Zeitgeist of America. His seemingly divestment from the matter would make it of very little relevance towards the public opinion of his position. While dealing with this question, more important matters concerned Feynman.